Planners – Professionals with many hats, Profession with endless struggle

Jack of all trades, master of none….., it sounds so familiar, it’s something we learnt to describe ourselves. Some of us were happy with this figure of speech, and others lacked a more appropriate way of explaining our work. Entering B. Plan as misguided/ unguided souls (my greatest respect for those who took an informed & firm decision of entering planning!) trying to figure out what this course was all about. In our quest to avoid the rat race, we entered a mad race. Understanding and enjoying an entirely unheard course which offers a lot. Learning everything new from the day one to the last day of the course. What a journey it was!

Only to realise at the end that the journey was a roller coaster ride which never felt so scary or wrong until it came to a stop. Choosing a master’s degree after the bachelor was an informed decision, for some it was just another escape from reality in a hope to find better and more promising opportunities. There we were on another roller coaster, but with a distinct set of people this time since M. Plan isn’t an exclusive course for B. Planners.

Urban Planners - Jack of all trades post image

The way we understood planning and still resonating with Jack of all trades, master of none, it made perfect sense to have people from diverse backgrounds while planning for an area. It was what we were taught; it is what we experience and what it actually requires. But then, what about those who did B. Plan before M.Plan or just the B. Plan degree alone?

Taking pride in what we know, what we learn and what we can contribute in the society is something to be proud of, but then this message need to go out where it is heard and valued. A fresh graduate needs a validation from the market in terms of job opportunities, work freedom, status, pay scale, recognition or some other form depending on person to person. Waiting for this to happen, doing some odd job or less suited job for planners, finding it difficult to get a job or working for meagre pay, takes away the joy and pride which that planner once had.

The need to get a better job and secure our own future takes over the need and understanding to work with different people from a unique background. Working with them but then finding yourself to be lost among other professions or not being heard raises even more questions. After 4 to 6 years of hard work, (or maybe a lot more if you have work experience) only to end up with another challenge to carve a way out for yourself just because people cannot realise or are unaware of the value of your profession. Yet, we continue to work diligently, based upon what we have been taught and what we cherish. Working for the people and giving back to the society. The unsung heros, people who are never talked about (because no one knows about them!) but they need to be heard. Resorting to requesting and begging isn’t something which ever did good to someone, it’s the bare minimum respect and value which all professions deserve.

Studying religiously with a hope that someone somewhere is working on this cause, to get the much deserved and long forgotten respect and value of the profession, without apprehension they continue to study. After all, they made it to good colleges to be best professionals in their field and give their best. Students are never told and expected to fight for the cognizance of their profession. When such a course if being offered for decades and by the prestigious institutes, it’s difficult to understand what went wrong, or if there is anything wrong. An engineer, doctor, lawyer, architect or any professional look for work opportunity and required to clear the various exams and rounds as per selection procedure. But this is not the same case with planning. Its way different and one of the biggest hurdle which planners face.

Employers most of the time are unaware about the profession, they cannot hire someone whom they don’t know about. Because of lack of this awareness, not much of the job openings exists. The available opportunities have a vague or flawed selection criteria because it was never meant to facilitate the selection process for “planners”. It’s more oriented towards the work which the company is undertaking, so they are hiring anyone who can get their work done. It’s more of a project to project basis or based on an overlapping skill sets which makes planners eligible to apply for that job.

Those who cannot find a preferred job role, they keep on waiting for a more suited role only to end up taking some less relevant role just because they possess the required skill set. Most of the work opportunities are not aimed at planners but meant to be filled by a “qualified” person who possesses certain skills. Even after nearly 3 decades of existence of the B. Planning course, students are haunted by this condition of the market. “Qualified” person takes away the job most times only to deliver suboptimal solutions which further tarnish the image of the profession and the title “Planner”.

Things improved, and they are on the path to improvement. But we cannot simply attribute this improvement to the conscious and planned efforts by the stakeholders, but to the market forces which are giving shape to our cities. We as planners, educational institutions, research institutions, think tanks, decision makers and as a bare minimum as citizen, need to realise the crucial roles which planners play and how much they can contribute. It’s not the favour planners are asking for, it’s the value they deserve and what they earn through their services.